Greece and Israel come closer
by Dimitris Rapidis (November 28, 2015)
The official visit of Greek PM Alexis Tsipras to Israel came to a period of turmoil in the Middle East and in the midst of a serious tension between Turkey and Russia after the crash of aircraft Su-24 by the Turkish military forces. The reasons for and consequences of this "incident" are not yet clear, but it is certain that it affects the entire strategic perspective of Athens in the Eastern Mediterranean basin.
The first thing we need to keep in mind is that the tension in bilateral relations of Turkey and Russia directly affects, in an important degree, the wider relations of Greece with both countries. With regards to Russia, the Turkish Stream that would connect these three countries is about to delay or even shut down for a period of time. This is a really bad development for Greece, and especially for the Syriza government that has invested a lot in the rapprochement with Russia and the building-up of a strong energy partnership.
With regards to Turkey, tension with Russia along with the pressure Davutoglu and Erdogan receive from the EU on the refugee front might strongly affect the efforts of the Greek government that mediates towards reaching a viable solution and foster a credible cooperation with Turkey. It is likely that Ankara will loosen up control and patrolling against smuggling, transferring the burden of dealing with that to the Greek and European side (i.e. Frontex), turning down prospects for cooperation or even asking more from the EU in a fruitless bargain. In response, Greece and Cyprus might harden their stance over Turkey's EU membership bid and the opening of sensitive chapters, therefore causing another deadlock in an already ill-prepared plan from Berlin and Brussels to precipitate developments on Turkey's membership in exchange for partnership in the refugee crisis.
The second thing we need to keep in mind is that the tension between Russia and Turkey could severely affect negotiations over the Cyprus issue and jeopardize the developments that have been made so far by Anastasiades and Akinci. The role Ankara towrards a final resolution might be destructive, creating new problems in the process, transferring over Cyprus the side-effects of the growing pressure Ankara receives from EU and Russia with respect to involvement in Syria. Still, there is optimism that the business world in Turkey would press for a solution in Cyprus, as many investment plans are underway.
Taking into account these facts, the visit of Greek PM Tsipras came at the right moment for Greece and EU altogether. The reshaping of energy routes and priorities, with Israel and Cyprus placed as major pillars energy diversification and supply is of paramount importance. Despite the fact that the trilateral cooperation between Greece, Turkey and Russia on the gas pipeline construction would be comparatively less costly and issues of security supply would be better addressed, it is now a really hazardous period for accelerating that idea. And this mainly due to the many pending issues that Ankara has to deal with, such as the developments in Syria, the Kurdish issue, and certainly the relation with Russia.
The shift of attention towards Israel is timely and strategically appropriate for Greece, the EU, but for Tel Aviv as well. Israeli PM Netanyahu already since 2013 has been seeking to broaden energy cooperation with Central and Southeast Asia states, but this is becoming more and more risky due to the mounting security risks penetrating the Middle East region and the rise of Islamism that is expected after Paris attacks and the intensification of bombardments against ISIS.
Dimitris Rapidis is Director at Bridging Europe
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